On recent trip, Pope Francis takes sacraments to the people

By Christopher Lamb | Contributor
January 24, 2018

Pope Francis blesses a pregnant prisoner as he visits the women’s prison center in Santiago, Chile, Jan. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Danielita is 15 years old and suffers from severe cerebral palsy. Abandoned by her parents when she was just three months old, she is cared for by volunteers at the Hogar San Pedro home in Lima, Peru, a facility that is run by the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles. During Pope Francis’ visit to Peru, volunteers from Hogar San Pedro waited patiently outside the apostolic nunciature in Lima where he was staying, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Latin American pope. 

On the last day of his trip they were noticed by a papal bodyguard who brought them closer to Francis. “When he saw us, the pope immediately came over,” Margarita Navarro, a volunteer, told local press. “He asked us what Danielita had and where her parents were. I told him she was an orphan and was not baptized.” 

At this point, Navarro explained, the pope asked for holy water to be brought over and baptized Danielita on the spot. 

This wasn’t the only sacrament Francis administered in an impromptu manner during his visit to Chile and Peru last week. The one that garnered the most headlines was the pope’s decision to marry two flight attendants on board his plane from Santiago to Iquique. 

Paula Podest Ruiz, 39, and Carlos Ciuffardi, 41, were married in a civil ceremony eight years ago and had two children, but they asked the pope if he could bless their union, as the church they’d wanted to get married in was destroyed in an earthquake.

The pope listened and made them an even better proposal: would they like to be married sacramentally, and for him to celebrate. Stunned, they immediately agreed. The paperwork was hastily arranged and the first mid-air papal wedding ceremony was carried out. 

Both the baptism of Danielita and the airborne nuptials reveal Francis’ pastoral spontaneity, sending the message that he wants a church with its doors wide open to people. It might be described as pastoral populism. 

A number of commentators criticized the in-flight wedding for riding roughshod over canon law and the requirements that a couple undergo marriage preparation. On the flight from Lima to Rome, the pope told journalists that he quizzed the couple about this and was satisfied they had done the preparation course. 

“Tell the pastors that they were prepared and I made a judgment call,” the pope said to journalists on the flight back to Rome. “The sacraments are for people.”
In one of his morning homilies soon after his election, the pope talked about a couple who arrived at a parish office to plan their wedding. Rather than receiving support and congratulations they were given a list of prices and asked to show their baptismal certificates.  

“They found the door closed,” he said.

This approach doesn’t mean Francis is doing away with canon law or paperwork, but rather re-prioritizing them to avoid hindering the church’s mission. 
Yet while the pope’s vision of pastoral conversion is inspiring many Catholics across the world, it risks being overshadowed by the clerical sexual-abuse scandal. 

During his Chile trip, Francis upset victims by saying that there was no “proof” showing that Bishop Juan Barros knew about the sexually abusive behavior of once-prominent priest Father Fernando Karadima. He then suggested those accusing Barros — a number of whom are victims of Karadima who say Barros witnessed the abuse — were guilty of “calumny.” 

The pope later apologized for the remarks, which his top adviser on abuse called a “source of great pain” to survivors. There are still calls for Barros to resign, although Francis refuses to take action without “evidence.” 

Now back in Rome, the pope has another child-protection problem to deal with. This includes the new names for his papal commission on sexual abuse: the three-year terms for current members expired Dec. 13, and to Marie Collins, the Irish abuse survivor and ex-commission member, the delay suggests this issue is low on the priority list. 

On the flight back to Rome, Francis said the delay was normal when it came to Vatican bureaucracy, but that he has received a list of names and will soon announce them. 

None of this will satisfy critics who believe this pope has something of a blind spot on the abuse scandal. While Francis has pledged zero tolerance and often admitted that the church was slow to act, he has made mistakes. 

The fact he can admit them and apologize is novel in terms of papal history, but unless he gets a handle on the problem it risks overshadowing the rest of his mission.


  • pope francis
  • clerical sexual abuse of minors
  • chile

Related Articles